If there’s a single reason Class B North appears as the most wide-open league in the boys hockey landscape, it’s because there is so much unknown heading into the season.

A reshuffling of the deck, with realignment in both Class A and Class B, has introduced a former Class A program and a pair of Class B South schools into B North. Cony/Hall-Dale/Monmouth, Gardiner and the Capital Area Hawks jumped to B North this season, joining perennial regional contenders Old Town/Orono, Presque Isle and the Kennebec RiverHawks.

“There are so many unknowns for us,” said Cony coach Shawn Johnson, whose team qualified for the Class A North quarterfinals each of the last four seasons. “All I’m expecting is for every team to be good. Class B doesn’t mean ‘lesser,’ it means ‘good’ to me.”

Gardiner enjoyed success three years ago as the top seed in the Class B South tournament, but the Tigers were overmatched in the regional semifinals. They’d found it increasingly difficult to stack up against traditional state powers like Greely and Cape Elizabeth in that league.

Now, Gardiner will enjoy a season against more traditional rivals — instead of only one game against Cony, the Tigers will play two, both of which are league contests — and will have familiar towns and teams like Kennebec (the Waterville/Winslow co-op), Messalonskee, and others on their schedule.

After two years of taking some lumps with a very young roster, Gardiner is finally experienced up and down the lineup.

“We are a very top-heavy team — very, very top-heavy,” Gardiner coach Tyler Wing said. “I think we’ll be a well-oiled machine that works well together.”

Old Town/Orono and Kennebec met for the regional title last season, and the two could be headed back there again.

The RiverHawks have a top line as good as any in Class B North with senior Cody Ivey and junior Nate Newgard both back this season after finishing 2018-19 as two of the team’s top three scorers.

Kennebec will need to find some depth on the blue line and hope senior Bryce Gunzinger — the team’s starter two years ago — returns quickly to form in the nets.

“We just need to find out who steps up as a second line for us,” Kennebec coach Jon Hart said. “I like our team, and I like our top line. But I think the league comes down to which team can find that good second line that emerges.”

Messalonskee can finally throw itself into the Class B North mix again, too, though the Eagles are as young as any team in the region.

Senior Dylan Cunningham returns after spending two seasons playing junior hockey exclusively, and skating alongside senior Ben Hellen and junior Myles Hammond will give Messalonskee a veteran presence for the first time in a while.

“It’s about less penalties, good team effort and consistent play for us,” Messalonskee coach Kevin Castner said.

Presque Isle, Hampden Academy and Camden Hills will also present very good squads with an eye on upsetting anybody else’s perceived plans at a title run this winter.

The rebranded Capital Region Hawks, the Maranacook/Winthrop/Madison co-op has added both Lawrence and Spruce Mountain this season and makes for an interesting program on the rise.

Lawrence previously joined Skowhegan and Maine Central Institute as a Class A team, and the Bulldogs contributed seniors Cody Dixon and Ben Pierce to add immediate depth and experience for the Hawks.

“It adds much-needed maturity to what has been a very young team,” Capital Region coach Jack Rioux said. “I am very optimistic. The team chemistry has been very good right from the start and there is a lot of potential to surprise a few teams this year.”

GIRLS

The Winslow/Gardiner/Cony girls hockey co-op had made the playoffs in every year of its existence, and the Black Tigers should get there again.

The addition of freshman goaltender Emma Michaud fills one of the most glaring needs the team had, and most of its veteran depth is on the blue line in front of her. Gabby Hebert and Julia Hinkley have been the among the team’s best defenders for three years running now.

“Our goals are simple, to make the playoffs and see where that takes us,” coach Alan Veilleux said. “We’ll be competitive with most teams. We have key roles to fill on offense and will need to be effective and capitalize on our opportunities. We’re just hoping we can find that spark that will give us a boost.”

 

Five Players to Watch

Zach Whitney, Sr., Cony/Hall-Dale/Monmouth

Versatile forward on a young team who will see ice time, particularly in special teams situations, on the blue line, too.

Dylan Cunningham, Sr., Messalonskee

Youngest of three Cunningham brothers who powered the Eagles to 2014 and 2015 Class B state championships.

Quinn Veregge, Sr., Gardiner

Goalie has been a multi-year starter for the Tigers and will be counted on to help the team cement itself in a new league this season.

Cody Ivey, Sr., Kennebec

Talented forward missed the end of last season with an injury, yet still finished third on the team in scoring.

Ben Pierce, Sr., Capital Region

Defenseman joins his new team and adds veteran presence on a team that graduated only one player a year ago.

 

Five Games to Watch

Dec. 14

Cony/Hall-Dale/Monmouth at Gardiner

Dec. 28

Kennebec at Old Town/Orono

Jan. 11

Messalonskee at Capital Region

Jan. 15

Gardiner at Kennebec

Feb. 15

Messalonskee at Cony/Hal-Dale/Monmouth

Predicted Champion

Old Town/Orono

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